The Mancunian candidate; or, How to float near the ground with the greatest of ease

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Cecil George Armitage at the controls of an Aérodoo, Richelieu River, Québec, November 1968. Anon., “Et maintenant… l’Aérodoo.” Vallée de la Petite Nation, 30 January 1969, 15.

Peace and long life, my reading friend. Yours truly dares to hope that all is well in your little corner of the Milky Way. As you have undoubtedly guessed, this week I intend to perorate on a hovercraft / air cushion vehicle, a means of transport for which I feel a certain fondness. The photograph that illustrates my point comes from a weekly published between 1961 and 1972, Vallée de la Petite nation of Buckingham, then Saint-André-Avelin, Québec. Said photo was in the 30 January 1969 issue of said publication. And yes, my passionate about gliding reading friend, the municipality of Buckingham was mentioned in a July 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Does the word Aérodoo / Aerodoo ring a bell? Yes? No? That’s what I thought. It is therefore a safe bet that you’ve never heard of Cecil George Armitage, a Mancunian dentist, and ... No, my reading friend, a Mancunian is not an intelligent extraterrestrial creature. It is actually a resident of the beautiful and big city of Manchester, England. Armitage, say I, was a veteran of the Second World War. He served with distinction in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot.

Armitage was one of the many hovercraft enthusiasts working in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the world, during the 1960s. During his free time, he designed and built a few light / small hovercraft. Examples included the Manchester Maid, Mancunian II and Tadpole, completed around 1968-70. Armitage initially worked in the cellar of the building where his dentist’s office was located. He later rented a portion of a co-operative store / general store, christened The Levenshulme Hovercraft Works for the occasion.

Armitage was one of the pillars of the Manchester Hoverclub. Like many enthusiasts, he participated in a number of races. Would you believe that, for a while, Armitage held the world speed record for light / small hovercraft, set on the Manchester Maid? What was the speed he reached, say ye? 74.271 kilometres / hour (46.152 miles / hour), say I.

No later than 1969, Armitage founded a small company in Manchester. Hoverspares Limited made a number of kits of Aerodoos and Fleetwind Arrows, a virtually unknown light / small hovercraft. The company also manufactured some Hoverknights Hoverscouts. This was a single-seat hovercraft designed to be made by amateur builders or groups of teenagers. Hoverspares seemingly did not remained in business for long, and neither did Hoverknights (Limited?) for that matter. The latter, for example, became a member of the Denis Ferrranti Group in 1969 or 1970.

Armitage gradually reduced his hovercraft operations. He died in July 2009, at the age of 89.

This overview of Armitage’s achievements allows us to approach the rest of this article with a bit more confidence.

In November 1968, Armitage was in Québec. He performed demonstration rides on the Richelieu River aboard a light / small 2-seat hovercraft, the Aerodoo / Aérodoo. It was / is a safe bet that this name was of Québec rather than British origin. It was in effect inspired by the snowmobile developed by L’Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée, today’s Bombardier Incorporée, the very popular Skidoo. Yours truly was unfortunately unable to identify the type of light / small hovercraft that Armitage brought to Québec in 1968.

Please now fasten your belt, my intrepid reading friend. We will indeed try to untangle the relationships between the various companies set up in Québec to distribute and / or produce the Aérodoo.

The first company associated with this hovercraft, Aérodoo Incorporée of Montréal, Québec, made its appearance in 1968. It held the exclusive distribution rights of the Aérodoo in the Americas. In fact, its representatives quickly went looking for serious distributors in various regions of Québec, including the Outaouais. The links of Aérodoo, the company of course, with the firms that were born later on escape me still. I am sorry for that.

Aerodoo Québec-Maritimes Incorporée was created in Montréal in January 1969. The purpose of this company was to manufacture motor vehicles of all kinds.

Aerodoo Montreal Incorporated of Montréal followed in March 1969. This second company was to trade in the field of hovercraft, automobiles, airplanes, boats, etc. It changed its name in January 1970 to become Albrechtson Entreprises Incorporated.

Both Aerodoo Québec-Maritimes and Aerodoo Montreal / Albrechtson Entreprises may, I repeat may, have been controlled by Aerodoo Holdings Limited of Montréal. Also established in March 1969, this company became Aerodoo Industries Incorporated of Montréal in November 1970, before changing its name a second time in February 1972. Montréal-based H.I.L. Industries Limited was born at that time. Yours truly wonders if Aerodoo Holdings was the new name of Aérodoo, the aforementioned company formed in 1968.

This organizational ballet might be due to the fact that the management of these various companies could not always pay its creditors or meet the expectations of investors. Aérodoo and Aerodoo Québec-Maritimes were sued in early 1971, for example.

Be that as it may, various projects of hovercraft assembly plants were mentioned in the press. Let us mention, for example, that of Aero-Doo Manufacturing (Company? Incorporated? Limited?) of Saint-Jérôme, Québec, in April 1969. In May of the same year, Alliance Industries Québec Limitée of Terrebonne, Québec, announced that it would start before long the series production of the Aérodoo. It planned to manufacture 1 000 within a year. Alliance Industries Québec was also considering producing sauna baths and trailer tents. These two Aérodoo production projects went nowhere.

Aerodoo Industries was more successful, relatively speaking. Funded by Montréal businessmen and a group of retired officers from the Canadian Army, this company was chaired by Jean Victor Allard, a Second World War veteran (infantry), the first French-speaking Canadian general and the first French-speaking chief of the defence staff. Indeed, Allard played an important role in the bilingualisation of the Canadian armed forces.

A second retired senior officer may, I repeat, have been Allard’s right hand man. A Lieutenant-General in the United States Army at the time of his retirement, Arthur Gilbert Trudeau was special advisor to the president of North American Rockwell Corporation when he joined forces with Aerodoo Industries. And yes, my reading friend, this important American aircraft manufacturer was mentioned in an August 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. And yes, said Trudeau shared a 17th century ancestor with Canada’s Prime Minister in early 2019, Justin Pierre James Trudeau.

You may be intrigued to learn (read?) that Trudeau, the officer and not the politician, was involved in an American-Canadian military project known as the High Altitude Research Project (HARP). This endeavour was launched in 1961 to study, at low cost, the problems surrounding the return to the atmosphere of the thermonuclear warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles. In fact, the American agency involved in HARP was the Ballistic Research Laboratory of the United States Army. Its Canadian partner was the Space Research Institute of McGill University, a Montréal-based higher learning institution that oversaw the project. The main sponsor of HARP was a brilliant Canadian engineer.

Gerald Vincent Bull was one of the engineers working on the one and only Canadian missile project that went beyond the drawing board stage. The work began in 1950 at one of the establishments of the Defense Research Board, the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment of Valcartier, Québec, today’s Defence Research and Development Canada Valcartier. The small team wanted to develop an expertise in this promising new field and develop an air-to-air missile, the Velvet Glove, comparable, to a certain extent, to the weapons on which American and British teams were working.

The Defence Research Board transferred control of the project to a well-known Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Canadair Limited of Cartierville, Québec, in 1951. Tested for the first time in August 1953, the Velvet Glove, then designed for the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck all-weather fighter aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), quickly proved limited in its performance. Work continued but the enthusiasm was no longer there.

More interested in an American missile deemed superior, the RCAF no longer wished to invest in the Velvet Glove. The Defence Research Board, meanwhile, wanted to see its engineers working on more advanced projects. Only the staff of the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment, it seemed, wanted to develop an improved Velvet Glove. It did not succeed. The Department of Defence Production withdrew its support early in 1956. Canadair produced an uncertain number of Velvet Gloves (130 or 300?) that were used exclusively for firing trials. And yes, me faithful reading friend, Canadair was mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since November 2017, but back to our business.

The projectiles tested by HARP engineers were not launched using rockets; they were fired by 2 huge cannons mounted on ranges, in Barbados, a British colony in the West Indies, and in Arizona. These projectiles were named Martlet, in honour of the bird that decorated / decorates the coat of arms of McGill University. The first of these was fired in January 1963. A Martlet fired in November 1966 reached an altitude of about 180 kilometres (about 110 miles) – a performance still unmatched at the beginning of 2019. Not very popular in some Canadian circles, HARP came to a close in 1967.

Bull’s career did not end there. Unfortunately, it had a tragic end. When HARP was abandoned, Bull received its assets and founded Space Research Institute Incorporated. He then launched Space Research Corporation, right on the Canada-United States border, near Highwater, Québec. Having become an American citizen in 1973, Bull designed a high-performance artillery piece and an equally impressive shell. The transfer of these technologies to the government of South Africa, then under an embargo issued by the United Nations Organization, around 1977, led to Bull’s arrest and imprisonment in 1980.

Enraged by this conviction, which was treason for him, given that elements of the American government were aware of his links with South Africa, Bull turned his back on the United States and Canada. He worked for the Iraqi government, both on improving the warhead of the Soviet-designed intermediate range missiles used by that country and on a giant cannon capable of placing a satellite in orbit. This work turned Bull into a marked man. This world expert in ballistics was murdered in Brussels, Belgium, in March 1990, at the age of 62. The government that ordered this execution remains unknown. It should be noted that artillery pieces directly inspired by Bull’s ideas have served / serve in the armed forces of 15 or so countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s collection includes 2 inert Velvet Gloves missiles, one of these a cutaway, and 2 Martlets, but let’s go back to this week’s main topic.

By the end of 1970, Aerodoo Industries seemed to be considering the possibility of moving to Trois-Rivières, Québec. In the end, it chose to occupy a plant in Granby, Québec, used for a long time by Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada Limited, the Montréal-based subsidiary of British American Tobacco Company Limited. A detail worthy of note, at least for me, is the fact that said factory was used at least in part by Les Automobiles Manic (1970) Limitée in 1970-71.

May I digress a moment, my reading friend? No? Allow me to override this answer, which was far too negative. The term Manic was an abbreviation of the name of a Québec watercourse, the Manicouagan, where one could find a dam, near-mythical in the 1960s and 1970s, Manic-5, later renamed the Daniel-Johnson dam.

Les Automobiles Manic Incorporée, the original name of the company, in 1968, manufactured a copy of a racing car designed in France by the Groupe de recherches automobiles de course (GRAC). This Manic-GRAC had some success on the track. The company then designed an original race car, the Manic PA-II. A prototype completed in 1970 did not seem to participate in many races.

Would you believe that the driving spirit of Les Automobiles Manic was a graduate of the Collège Stanislas, a well-known Paris-based Catholic private educational institution mentioned in a December 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee?

The product which made the fame of Les Automobiles Manic, however, was a sports car, the Manic GT, which ... And no, yours truly does not intend to pontificate on this automobile this week. I think / hope to devote a full article to the Manic GT. I will at the very least mention that the first vehicles of this type were manufactured in… Terrebonne. It’s a very small world, isn’t it? And no, Les Automobiles Manic and Aerodoo Industries did not occupy the same factory at different times.

At the beginning of 1971, in freezing weather, the aforementioned Allard went to Granby with shareholders to see an Aérodoo move about on Lake Boivin. During the first half of that year, Aerodoo Industries seemingly assembled / manufactured 15 Aérodoos. In June, Allard presented 2 of these prototypes, extremely / unbearably noisy according to some, to the press, at the nautical club of Longueuil, Québec. The company, he said, planned to begin series mass production of its hovercraft no later than September. It hoped to produce 500 in 1971 and 1 150 in 1972.

Aerodoo Industries’ management believed that the light / small recreational hovercraft had a bright future in Canada and beyond. The National Research Council of Canada shared this optimism. A report completed in 1970 or 1971 indicated that 40 000 such vehicles could be sold each year (in Canada?).

Convinced that the hovercraft could also fulfill commercial functions, Aerodoo Industries wanted to design a vehicle that could carry 5 passengers and / or 1 tonne of freight.

If the Aerodoo sold well, Aerodoo Industries planned to move to a more modern plant, already existing or to be built. The Department of Regional Economic Expansion in Ottawa, Ontario, was willing to support the company’s efforts if the Aerodoo sold well.

Weeks, then months went by. Aerodoo Industries was no longer in the news. Yours truly unfortunately does not know the reasons that explained / explain its disappearance. This being said (typed?), a lack of money probably played its part.

May I be permitted an aeronautical digression, my reading friend? Yes? A big thank you.

Many companies around the world offered to early 20th century collectors series of illustrated aviation cards on top of the hundreds of series already available on multiple topics. Some of these series were available in Canada. Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada, for example, launched 2 series of 50 cards in 1910 and 1911. These series bore the same name, Aviation. Several other series were apparently available in Canada before the First World War. Just think of the series of 75 cards, also called Aviation, which was distributed around 1910 in products of its British parent company, British American Tobacco Company Limited. This type of card retained its popularity in the following years. In 1941, as the Second World War raged, Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada launched the Aircraft “Spotter” series which included 134 cards of varying size and format. It should be noted that the collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes about 60 cards from this series.

If you don’t mind, yours truly believes that the time has come to conclude this article. Yes, yes, do not protest. You were yawning your head off, my reading friend, but I don’t blame you. Before leaving you, I would like to thank all those who provided information. Any error in this article is my fault, not theirs. See you soon. Live long and prosper.

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Rénald Fortier